A New Orleans Travel Guide by Artist Diane Millsap

With only a quick glance at Diane Millsap’s work, it’s clear she has a passion for New Orleans and vibrant colors. Millsap, who frequents her New Orleans, has spent many years exploring the beloved city and trying out places both old and new. Here she shares a guide to her 4 favorite spots in New Orleans and the artwork each inspired.


Jackson Square


The Hours on Jackson Square

I first fell in love with Jackson Square on an incredibly hot 100-degree day in June. As my husband and I walked into the Square, I was amazed to see throngs of tourists and families…all smiling, laughing, and seemingly oblivious to the heat!
This was their family vacation, and Jackson Square was at the hub of it all. A local brass band in front of the St. Louis Cathedral boomed out tunes with a beat that no one could ignore. (You gotta love what these local musicians can do with a tuba!) A street performer, covered with metallic spray paint, enthralled the kids as he “transformed” from a construction worker into a race car. And art was everywhere! Hundreds of paintings were hung from the Square’s magnificent iron fence. And the artists, just as colorful as the artwork, were all on hand to engage in conversation.
Carriages drawn by very good looking mules (in my estimation) were doing a brisk business, hauling everyone through the French Quarter–their drivers giving the unbelievably exciting history of New Orleans. There is always something new to learn on these tours because the history of this city is so dense and so rich. Tales of pirates, yellow fever, ghosts, and military battles will leave one breathless. The beginnings of New Orleans were not easy!
It was at this moment that I realized I was in the living, breathing heart of the French Quarter. The beautiful architecture (built over the centuries by the French, Spanish, and even an enterprising 19th Century woman) is still in use as shops, museums and restaurants. These buildings surround the square in a warm and intimate way, gently blurring the line between the past and the present, gently weaving that old New Orleans’ spell that makes us want to return again and again.


St. Peter Street
New Orleans Jive

One of my favorite streets in the French Quarter is St. Peter Street. This street is a jumble of all the old and fascinating architectural styles which are unique to New Orleans: The three story townhouses, the quirky servants’ quarters with their oddly pointed roofs, and the Creole Cottages with their massive old shuttered doors. There are also plenty of wrought iron balconies, arched carriage ways, and high connecting wooden fences with doors in them, leading where? All are jammed up against each other. So much going on, so compressed,and behind this facade is a labyrinth of connected passageways, beautiful courtyards, and huge glass French doors.
And St. Peter Street jumps with activity, night or day, with every conceivable type of business–The famed Pat O’Brien’s, the Jazz Preservation Hall, Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop, The Gumbo Shop restaurant, the Krazy Korner music club, a Lucky Dog cart, and on and on. This street rocks and jives with laughter, lights and music, and is not one to be missed.

The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street
Old Absinthe House

The story of this old bar on a Bourbon Street corner is synonymous with the rich, colorful, and sometimes notorious history of the French Quarter. One can almost feel its shady past oozing out from the rough stucco walls.
Starting out as an import house in 1806, it is purported to have been the location where the pirate Jean La Fitte and General Andrew Jackson hatched their plans for the 1812 Battle of New Orleans. Later in 1815, it became a rough and tumble saloon called “Aleix’s Coffee House.” Then in 1874 it was the site of the invention of the strong liqueur, Absinthe. The reputation of this drink was so infamous that it was outlawed in the United States as a drink that could lead to insanity and the ruination of all who drank it.
Today after careful renovation, much of the Old Absinthe House remains original. It’s a great to enter, look up at the old beams, sit by the the ancient fireplace with your favorite drink in hand, and drift back through time.


Sunrise of the French Quarter
French Quarter Sunrise

It’s been about a month since our last trip to New Orleans, but I can still remember how beautiful the early morning is in the French Quarter. I was standing on the balcony of our hotel on Chartres Street looking towards Esplanade Avenue, and the sun was just coming up. All of a sudden the buildings at the end of the street took on an incredible glow. There were soft pinks and yellows and wonderful shades of purples and lavenders. It only lasted for a few minutes, but I grabbed my camera and got a few shots. As soon as we got back to Illinois, I got out my paints and tried to get the scene down on canvas.
I love all the excitement and glitter of New Orleans, but this quiet and tranquil scene of the old Vieux Carre’ is one that I will always remember. This fleeting moment in time was another facet of this complicated and truly alive city called New Orleans.


Thanks, Diane! Check out Diane Millsap’s full collection on Great BIG Canvas.